Reviews of yesteryear: Monster

Monster is an award winning manga written by Urasawa Naoki, the same author who wrote the brilliant 20th Century Boys, from the mid 90s to the early 2000s. A couple years after the manga ended it got an anime adaptation from Madhouse. Them again? It feels like I’ve said everything about their studio that I possibly can in the past few months, both good and bad. So… let’s just take a look.

Okay, so there’s a Japanese neurosurgeon named Tenma. After an attack of conscience about being pulled away from poorer patients he takes a stand, breaks orders and handles the operation of a boy who got shot in the head instead of transferring over to a different operation on a richer patient at the last minute. The boy survives, thanks to his expert care, but it destroys his career. At least, it does until the hospital director and several others are killed by poisoned candy but the boy and his twin sister both vanish from the hospital. Cut to several years later and there seems to be a bunch of unexplained murders. That’s when Doctor Tenma learns that the young boy he saved back then is responsible. To make matters worse, Tenma is wanted for the murders. Wanted by the law and determined to make sure that there are no more victims, Tenma goes after the boy known only as Johan. Now, it probably seems like I’m going into spoilers, but I’m not. This all happens in the beginning. Now, one concern I had about the length was that it was going to drag, but it doesn’t. Everything that happens is necessary and plot-related. To Monster’s credit, the episodes also don’t drag, well mostly. There are a few scenes that feel overly long, but not many. There’s also a good mystery here, not over who’s responsible since they tell you right away, but over the reasons why. There are constant clues as to what happened to the twins in the past. You get these hints piece by piece until, eventually, the answers become clear. Now, I won’t spoil it but it is really interesting. Another thing that Monster does well is handling the darker content. Unlike a certain other anime from Madhouse, which I could name but those of you who regularly read my reviews can figure out what it is, Monster takes the darker content and handles it with maturity and intelligence. Yeah, it’s a really dark anime, but it all works because the writing is so well done. Take note, this is how you handle mature content. One issue I did have was with the ending. Honestly, it’s too optimistic and doesn’t quite fit the rest of the series. It’s not badly written, but it does feel like a strange tonal shift.

Like the story elements, there isn’t a character introduced who isn’t important. Yes, some of them disappear for a while and some of them are only in a few episodes, but they’re all important to the plot. Not only that, but they all have developed personalities and many of them get further development as the series progresses. That’s pretty impressive. It takes skill to write a 74 episode series without any unnecessary characters or plot lines. I also really like Johan as an antagonist. He’s incredibly clever, so the police don’t look inept for not being able to find him. It also helps that he rarely gets his own hands dirty, preferring to manipulate others into doing it for him. And they say that charisma makes a good dump stat unless you’re a bard.

The art is really well done. The characters look pretty realistic. The scenery does look a lot like the areas they’re supposed to be. The various objects from guns to food to cars are all nicely detailed. There are some cases where you can’t quite see because it’s too dark, but it’s always done to strategically build tension rather than a result of incompetence and it always works.

The voice acting is excellent. Everyone does really well from Sasaki Nozomu to Kiuchi Hidenobu to Noto Mamiko, even if she’s not playing a yuri girl in this. What? She plays yuri girls a lot. See Mai Hime, Mai Otome, Maria Sama Ga Miteru, & Yamibou which were most of the anime I’d heard her in at that point. The music is really good for aiding atmosphere and tone. However, the stuff that actually has lyrics is kind of poorly done. No offense to Sylvian David, but he sings in this like he inhaled a bunch of helium and he’s just coming off of it.

The yuri factor is a 1.5/10. There are a few scenes that could be interpreted as homo-erotic, but there are only two of them and interpreting them like that is kind of a stretch.

The final rating for Monster is a 9/10. In the end, most of my complaints are pretty minor and none of them detract too much from the series. The writing is excellent, the characters are well developed, the art is great, the voice acting is excellent and the music adds to the series. In spite of a few complaints, everything is done really well in the series and I do recommend it to anyone who wants to see a good drama. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out.

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